The tomato plants at my house are playing out too soon. The leaf wilt has taken over. I’m praying that the harvest will continue. I love a good tomato.
Even though I work with plants for a living, I don’t have the touch my Dad had with a garden. He plowed and set the rows. I walked behind the planter and kicked a little dirt over the top. Rows of Kentucky Wonders. Purple Hull Peas. Silver Queen Corn. Tomatoes. Butter Beans. Okra. Squash. Cucumbers. Cantaloupe. Melons. Mile long rows of ancestral seed collected, stored and used over and over again.
“Who are we planting all this for?” I would ask.
“Don’t ask foolish questions.” He said. “That row could use a little more dirt on top.”
Once the seed was in the ground and the plants broke through the crust, my job began. I lived at the end of a hoe most of my summer months at home. Other kids went swimming. I hoed corn. I complained. I hoed beans. My bike was starting to rust. Yet, I hoed coffee weed, thistle, and morning glory. I was the last line of defense against the foreign invaders.
I came up with what I thought was a sure-fired escape. My friends needed me to play second base. The game couldn’t happen unless I showed up. Hank Aaron was going to be there. I hoed more corn. It wasn’t punishment. It just needed to be done, and a 13 year old boy was just the guy to get it done.
The first real garden of my own was on the backside of a plot of ground near Cartersville, GA within rock throwing distance of the Etowah River. I did it all. Just like Dad used to do. My wife thought I had lost my mind.
“Who are we planting all this for?” she asked.
I did not follow through with the reply I had gotten. There were two of us and I think we pulled 300 ears of Silver Queen that year. Maybe I was nuts.
That was a long time ago. My gardening efforts have trailed off considerably. Almost zero, in fact. Ten tomato plants. That’s it. It takes about 10 minutes to work a hoe around them. I smile when I hear the Dixie Chicks sing:
“Been a long time gone,
No, I ain’t hoed a row since I don’t know when”
Part of me is ashamed that I don’t pick my own beans any more. The Ghost of Garden Past visits me at night. Part of me, my thumbs in particular, is glad that I’m not shelling peas and snapping beans. I grow trees in long rows these days and buy my peas at the market. But tomatoes, the ones grown in west coast soil and shipped here like a box of marbles! No sir. No thank you.
There is so much to be said about tomatoes. The good ones can make the lame to walk and the dumb to speak. The trade negotiations with China would improve over a tomato sandwich on white bread. Even grumpy folks smile when handed a bag of tomatoes. I’m taking a bag with me when I die, just in case.
“Who are you growing all this stuff for?” The lost souls of the world who have never had a fresh vine ripe tomato. It’s a game changer.